Mailbag: Catchers and more catchers

Mailbag: Catchers, catchers and more catchers

Being a huge Gregg Zaun fan, I am wondering how much playing time he will get with Bengie Molina being there. Considering all the hard work Zaun put in last year, how do you think manager John Gibbons will handle Zaun's playing time this year?
-- Stephanie F., Mississauga, Ontario

Zaun will probably get more playing time than a typical backup catcher does, but it's hard to put an exact number on how many games he might appear in. It doesn't look as if Zaun will top 100 games played for the third straight season, though.

Molina has played in at least 100 games in four of the last six seasons, but no more than 119 since 2002. It'd probably be a fair assumption to say he'd cross the century mark in games played during the upcoming season, barring injury, of course. Molina, who is right-handed, led all American League hitters with a .393 batting average against left-handed pitchers, so he is a near lock to be in the lineup against such pitchers.

Zaun is a switch-hitter and displayed more power from the left side, which means he could see plenty of playing time against right-handers. Another option that Gibbons has is to maybe use Zaun as a designated hitter to get him more at-bats. If Troy Glaus needs a day off at third, Shea Hillenbrand -- the primary DH -- would be the first replacement, which could open the door for Zaun to DH. Outfielder Eric Hinske could see some time at DH, too.

Gibbons will get Zaun in the lineup and behind the plate plenty of times. He was an important part of last year's team, and he helped keep the pitching staff intact when starters Roy Halladay and Ted Lilly missed time with injuries. Though Zaun admits he wasn't thrilled to move back into a reserve role, he has said that he understands that Toronto is a stronger team with both himself and Molina on the roster.

Molina has not had an extremely productive preseason at the plate. If this continues into the regular season, is there any chance Zaun may see more starts than normal at the beginning of the year?
-- Michael B., Toronto

True, Molina hasn't had the best offensive showing this spring. He's the first to point that out, too. Through 11 games, Molina was hitting .250. One of the main reasons behind Molina's slow start at the plate is that he's been spending nearly all his spare time with the pitchers in order to learn their tendencies and their various repertoires.

Last week, Molina said that he doesn't usually start worrying about how his swing is working until about a week before the regular season begins. He noted that the approach has been the same one he's used every spring -- not just this year, when he's been confronted with a completely new staff for the first time. If that's the case, the Blue Jays might not have much to worry about. Last season, Molina set career highs in average (.295), home runs (15) and slugging percentage (.446).

If Molina has a slow start to the season and it's hurting the team's production in any way, Gibbons could give Zaun some extra starts. Molina might have a hard time getting into more of a rhythm if he isn't getting consistent playing time, though. Hopefully, Molina's swing will come around by the time Opening Day rolls around, and Toronto won't have anything to worry about.

Based on Gustavo Chacin's questionable second half of 2005 and some recent issues at the World Baseball Classic, how many wins can we realistically expect of him in 2006?
-- Steven D., Kanata, Ontario

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Chacin's second-half production of 2005 was only slightly below his performance in the first half. Before the All-Star break, the left-hander went 7-5, with a 3.57 ERA. He went 6-4, with a 3.88 ERA, after the break. After going undefeated in July, he did struggle in August (0-3, 5.30), but he recovered well the rest of the way (2-1, 3.68).

Toronto couldn't have predicted that Chacin would have made every start as a rookie, and his 13 wins -- which tied with Josh Towers for the team high -- probably exceeded the team's expectations. Sometimes, pitchers who have success in their first year find that putting up similar numbers their second time through is more difficult. That being said, if Chacin wins 13 again this year, the Blue Jays will probably be more than happy.

The World Baseball Classic issue shouldn't set Chacin back too much. He only appeared in one inning in the tournament, but Venezuela's early exit brought him back to Spring Training with a few weeks to train before the season begins. His pitch count isn't where it might have been had he remained with Toronto, but the southpaw still has time.

What was your take on Ernie Whitt as manager of Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic? He seemed really laid back and completely opposite of Gibbons. If the Blue Jays struggle this year, which I don't see happening, would Whitt be in line for the Jays' manager job?
-- Paul G., Brantford, Ontario

Whitt said he had a great time managing during the World Baseball Classic, but that he doesn't know if managing a Major League club is in his future. He's happy with his current role as Toronto's bench coach, and noted that it'd have to be the perfect situation for him to consider a career switch. Catchers do tend to make good managers, though. Whitt, who used to catch for the Blue Jays, led Team Canada to a victory over Team USA, which was managed by another former Toronto catcher, Buck Martinez, in one of the biggest upsets in the Classic. As far as Whitt's chances of replacing Gibbons -- yet another former catcher -- I don't think anyone will be looking for possible replacements for Toronto's manager any time soon.

What will happen if third baseman Troy Glaus or first baseman Lyle Overbay need a day off? Will Hillenbrand still be the designated hitter? If so, will they consider moving Eric Hinske back to third or first base?
-- Michael E., Thornhill, Ontario

Hillenbrand will be the primary DH, but he'll also be the first choice to fill in for Overbay or Glaus if they need some rest. If Glaus and Overbay sit out the same game, Toronto could use Hinske at one of the corner spots, too. Second baseman Aaron Hill could also move to third base, where he spent some time last season, if Hillenbrand moved to first base with both regular corner infielders sitting out. In that situation, John McDonald would play second. McDonald also has the ability to play third, if needed.

Aside from using Hillenbrand as DH, Gibbons could use a number of players, depending on who isn't starting in the field. If Frank Catalanotto and Alex Rios are starting in left and right field, respectively, that would leave Reed Johnson and Hinske as options for DH. Glaus could DH if he needed a day off from fielding. As stated in a previous response, Zaun and Molina could see time at DH if the other is catching, too. Basically, Toronto has a lot of options at the corners and at the designated hitter spot if the regular players aren't in the lineup.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.